A few weeks ago, I struck gold: I found a two volume set of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender's discourses on emuna, that had been translated into English.
I bought the books home, and started devouring them. Dear reader, they are simply amazing books, packed full of history, insight, and spiritually-deep but still accessible ideas on how to live life.
Let me quote you a few things, to give you a flavour:
"To tell a person in a specific manner 'Do this' is not feasible. It is self-understood that if one cannot give advice - it's forbidden to give advice! And if you will ask - there are those who do give advice…Is it possible to do anything to stop them? But it is certainly very dangerous to receive advice from anyone.
"At times, it's possible to smash a person to smithereens through the 'advice' that one gives him…"
I read this particular passage at a time when I was pondering on why certain Torah luminaries, like Rav Arush for example, make it a broad rule to give as little direct advice as possible, and to encourage people to pray for their answers, while other 'lesser' rabbis of all stripes are freely throwing their advice around in all directions.
They're happy to tell people who to marry, what business to start, even where to live - and to be honest, it's always struck me as taking on a huge responsibility. What if you directly tell someone to move to Israel, for example, and then it doesn't work out so well?
Or what if you tell them to leave their job and just to rely on prayer for parnassa - and then it doesn't materialise? Or to change their name, if they want more mazal in life - which they dutifully do, but still don't see much improvement in their circumstances?
I know rabbis who have done all of the above and more, and when their 'advice' didn't work out, they pretty much dumped the person they were 'advising' and made it clear that they were on their own, to deal with all the consequences of following the bad advice they'd been given.
Giving advice is not the authentic Breslev way
Then, I opened up 'Words of Faith' and this passage literally jumped out at me, and resolved the issue categorically: giving advice is not the authentic Breslev way. Instead, Breslev encourages people to talk to God, and to get their directions and their insights that way. Of course, sometimes we still need an objective person to tell us what's really going on, but any advice given by an authentic, humble rabbi is still phrased as advice, not as a command or an order.
Other things I like about the book is all the anecdotes and stories it contains about the different Breslev elders, from Rav Natan, Rebbe Nachman's main student, all the way down to R Levi Yitzhak's own life and peers, many of whom were tortured and murdered by the evil Stalinist regime for the terrible crime of being practising Jews.
I started to realise that the students of Rebbe Nachman have often achieved some amazing things, spiritually, but that it's never been 'easy'. There's always been dissension, oppression, confusion and distractions, both internally and externally.
But I found it very heartening that someone of the spiritual stature of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, who became the defacto head of Breslev in Jerusalem until his death in 1989, had also faced tests and trials to get to where he got to.
I drew a lot of strength and encouragement from his stories and Torah teachings, and I also got a lot of clarity on many Breslev customs and practises (like not giving advice, for example) that had become a little murky for me.
I highly recommend this book. In the best Breslev tradition, it clothes lofty spiritual concepts in the most simple words and discussions, and R Levi Yitzhak Bender's words pierce straight to the heart of the matter, and also to the heart of the reader.
You can find 'Words of Faith, Volumes I & II, at the Breslev Bookstore in Meah Shearim, or contact the authors directly to order a copy at: firstname.lastname@example.org